Education in Music:
Cacophony, Polyphony and Symphony
by RAJIV TRIVEDI
Mr. Ajay Singh, the Madhya Pradesh state Minister for Tourism & Culture, ensured his place in the history of music by inaugurating the first ever seminar held in the world to discuss the possibilities of teaching Indian Classical Music on the Distance – education model. The international seminar held at Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal on 27th, 28th and 29th November 2000, was organised by Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal, under the helmsmanship of IT-savvy young minister who skilfully defended the idea of distance-education against the challenges raised by erstwhile Secretary for Culture and present Vice-chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Shri Ashok Vajpayee in his opening lecture. Music-education experts from South Africa and Finland travelled to Bhopal to hobnob with their equally illustrious Indian counterparts from Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Calcutta and other reputed centres of music.
It was an exciting activity for the local music-lovers, aficionados and scholars who readily agreed with the posers put forward by Shri Ashok Vajpayee. Who would not agree that there is an inherent basic philosophical and theoretical contradiction between music and distance? Certainly not Shawn Fanning, 19, who created Napster just to bridge this gap and some more! But for people brought up to applaud the subjective transference of this intangible art, it was nothing short of sacrilege to suggest that knowledge of music could be imparted in some fashion other than seena-ba-seena taleem [person-to-person teaching]. The three-day seminar that struggled with such simplicities as well as serious objections to its success, not only did allay such fears but also achieved its objective by formulating constructive recommendations to make the ancient art of India maintain its appeal and relevance in the cyber-age as well. Dr. Sanjoy Bandopadhyaya of Indira Kala Sangeet University, Khairagarh laid a foundation for scholastic approach to the problem by enumerating the various psychological, intellectual and emotional aspects requiring consideration in his introductory paper.
The first presentation of the evening session made a dent in the faith of Gurukul adherents, when Dr. N. Ramnathan gave detailed information regarding the degree course in music being offered by Chennai University through correspondence since 1984. Most of the two hundred or so students that seek admission to this course every year are employed, self-motivated mature persons who show obvious benefit of the course. The student receives apart from printed material, audiocassettes (videocassettes may soon become a part of the course material) that demonstrate the song in clear steps. A Veena rendering is also included for those opting for instrumental music. Dr. Ramnathan said that some of these students have attained performance level skill without consulting any human Guru. The demonstration of software Rasika and Gayak, that not only array all fundamental Raga and prominent compositions in Carnatic music, but also allow the learner to use them interactively, emphasised the scholar’s thesis that while excellence is a matter of personal factors, adequate information to equip the student towards such a goal may be conveniently imparted through the distance education model.
Brought up in a family of educationist-performers, Dr. Ragini Trivedi from Indore, was sensitive to the imminent shift in education. She averred the acceptance given to concept of distance learning even in the past when several unknown Eklavyas had to make do without a teacher’s proximity. She enumerated the ways in which several governmental and non-governmental agencies shall have to re-document their archives for easy global access. They shall have to plan strategies for conversion of all important material into electronic media that can be stored and exchanged conveniently on CD/DVD ROMs or as digital files over the net. The scholar also pointed out the need of short and focused professional courses that would benefit a lay student to gain proficiency and a vocation. Such courses would help a professional of allied discipline, to supplement it with knowledge of music – a recording engineer or an architect designing auditoriums, office structures or even class-rooms. With universities offering Management degrees in music, the global learner must be given a chance to understand the rich tradition of Indian music. Once the data was freely available online after the various bodies interlinked to share their resources, DTH could also be utilised to provide customised teaching on demand. The poignancy of her words was borne out by Professor and Head of the Music department of Mumbai University, Dr. Vidyadhar Vyas, who appraised the role of recording industry and Akashwani in spreading appreciation of Indian Classical music. He mentioned meeting several persons who had learned singing through records and radio lessons aired by his stalwart father, Pt. Narayan Rao Vyas. These students would introduce themselves with pride as Eklavya or Radio / Record Shishya of Pt. Vyas. Professor Vyas stated that the demand for professional and applied courses in music – e.g. Musical Annotation, Composition and Orchestration – would be better served if they were offered to distant students using modern technology. While a physical teacher should be available to all students at primary level to instil some initial training of music, at higher levels it could be taken up through distance. However, this mode of teaching should incorporate more illustrative examples and a bank of FAQs [Frequently Asked Questions] to initiate the students into the intricacies of Indian Classical music.
Time and again, scholars examined the various facets of imparting music education through non-conventional means. The objective, non-personal teaching may fall short of conveying traditional value system, but it would allow the learner to understand and acquire skill with greater ease and freedom. The noted doyen of Indian Musicology, Professor R.C. Mehta belied his eighty-two years with his sprightliness and mental agility as he chaired one session after other, focusing the queries to relevant issues. He pointed out that with over 10,000 courses being taught globally through distance education, it was already late and would soon be fatal if teaching of Indian Classical Music was not adopted to this model. He emphasised that now was the time when Indians realised the truth of the dictum: Music for Everyone and Everyone for Music. Keeping pace with technological progress, sound has surrounded us and with greater complexities. It has therefore created a dire need for discrimination, as in literature and the need for its understanding. The art of music being pervasive, compulsive, malleable with words, rhythms and images, entertains and moves the mankind in such a powerful manner that it is urgent to recognise its compulsive cultural impact in a disciplined manner – a goal easily attained when all the tools of technology are used for its study.
The sub-zero temperature [which dipped down as low as –40° C] that discouraged students to be physically present in his class gave rise to the distance education of music that Matti Ruippo has fine-tuned over years in Finland. Converting his lessons into text and audio files, he uses an Intranet for group learning as well as one-to-one interaction with all his students. Even as he was readying his electronic material for presentation in the seminar he was constantly in touch with his students back home. The system he charted out for electronic teaching of music can very well be applied to Indian music. In fact, it is through transfer of audio and video files over internet that Chhatradhari Devroop and his colleague Marc Duby have been in the process of learning and teaching Indian Classical Music while no human Gurus travel up to South Africa to impart person-to-person training. The South African scholars have developed a team that has been experimenting with digitising sounds of Indian instruments. They have succeeded in producing the gamak of Tabla through software and are working to perfect the meend. They confessed that South Africans, whether white, black or coloured, are interested in Indian music and would profit if Indian musicians and scholars would offer to share a part of their heritage. They were delighted by the software that Shri Kiran Vyas has developed over years.
The Tabla software that started as a dos programme now works in the Win 9x environment. It has a palette of all Tabla sounds or bols. The student can compose by clicking on the palette as the composition gets typed in a spread-sheet like table. One has the freedom to choose a part of the bols to be played in a certain speed, or else be repeated a desired number of times. For the beginner, Mr. Vyas has included the Gandharva mandal syllabus for all classes. The student only has to search and select the composition to practise along with the computer. Himself the scion of a noted Tabla maestro, Kiran Vyas has been teaching students for several years now. With the software he developed, he is able to speed up the learning curve of students from 12-16 weeks to 4-6 weeks. Neither does the student bewail the absence of a teacher, nor is the teacher put to a repetitious labour of demonstrating the same composition.
Professor H.V. Sahasrabuddhe, Head of the Computer Science Department of Pune University aptly pointed out the necessity of separating the fact from the myth in teaching of music. The various possibilities of a given Raga are in truth the aesthetic choice executed by the artiste, who understands the notes, nature of probable combinations and is versed in execution of the same. Professor Sahasrabuddhe informed that using the notations alone, he and his colleagues had reproduced compositions on the computer that were satisfactorily accurate. So much so, that when his wife, noted singer Veena Sahasrabuddhe recited the melody to the composer, it was applauded to be flawless.
Dr. S.A.K. Durga, the noted globetrotting voice-culture missionary, did consider this seminar important enough to alter her itinerary and take part in this challenging exercise. She exhibited how musical skills can be imparted to willing students through audio / videocassettes. If the fundamental sounds are demonstrated with examples, the student soon learns to distinguish between two similar ones. This mechanical training helps him in understanding larger and more complex patterns of sound and finally in practising them as a regular music composition. The videocassettes that Dr. Durga has produced have helped students employ her expertise to improve their music abilities without her physical presence. Yet, the musician-scholar warned that the requisite characteristics or qualities should be present both in the student and the teacher for the distance education to be as meaningful as a proximate one. The same message was echoed by Shri Shankar Ghosh who runs several Tabla schools in France from random parts of the globe, through cassettes, e-mail, chatting and on-line conferencing.
The seminar ended with a resolution being read out for open discussion. While a few new voices raised the same old query, open-minded scholars confessed that it was beyond imagination how within a short span of three days one could cross over the river of scepticism to reach the shore of faith.
The director of Ustad Allauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal, Shri OmPrakash Chourasia expressed his gratitude to organisations that helped in making this seminar a reality, chiefly Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi, Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India. He expressed satisfaction as the seminar covered heretofore-uncharted ground and yielded immediately viable results. He informed that the scholars participating in the seminar had resolved that:
It was further resolved to send these recommendations to all bodies related to music, education and technology like Ministry of Human Resource Development, Culture, IT; UGC and the Universities; SRA, NCPA and State Music Academies. The director, Shri Chourasia also expressed his gratitude to scholars, critics and musicians who travelled down to Bhopal to participate in the seminar. The scholars that presented their papers included, Prof. R.C. Mehta, Baroda; Dr. S.A.K. Durga, Chennai; Prof. Vidyadhar Vyas, Mumbai; Dr. N. Ramanathan, Chennai; Prof. H.V. Sahasrabuddhe, Pune; Dr. Sanjoy Bandopadhyaya, Khairagarh; Dr. Ragini Trivedi, Indore; Mr. Chhatradhari Devroop and Marc Duby, Pretoria, S. Africa; Mr. Matti Juhani Ruippo, Finland; Shri Shankar Ghosh, Calcutta; Shri Kiran Vyas, Mumbai. Though Mr. N. Pattabhi Raman, Director General of Samudri could not reach Bhopal personally, his paper on prospective design for free exchange of information appealed to the academics and scholars. They all agreed that though scope discussed in the paper was far vast than the issue in question, it certainly offered a hierarchical model for creating and sharing resources. The emphasis on concretising the illusive aesthetic element in intangible arts was specially commended by the scholars. Besides those that presented papers, the scholars, musicians and academicians who kept the discussions alive and ever focussed were such stalwarts as Dr. Swatantra Sharma of Allahabad University, Dr. Mukesh Garg, New Delhi, Dr. Sunil Satpathi from Bhuwaneshwar, Zia Fariduddin Dagar, Pt. Ramlal, Pt. Shankar Hombal, Shri Vinod Chopra, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, Vijay Sharma, Alpana Vajpayee and Lata Singh Munshi from Bhopal, Dr. P. Singh, Dr. Rajiv Trivedi from Indore, Prof S. Tiwari from Hoshangabad. As the seminar had initially been dubbed as provocative, the news agencies played an important role in covering its proceedings in detail, meeting and interviewing the scholars and laying bare all the facts. The co-operation of newspapers, Rajya Ki Nai Dunia and Deshbandhu, Bhopal was officially acknowledged along with that of Swaraj Sansthan, MP Lok Kala Parishad, and MP Griha Nirmana mandal, Bhopal. Akashwani, Doordarshan and representatives of all major channels gave ample coverage to the event. With initial fears quelled the music-loving community of Bhopal and the state developed pride in being the precursors in a movement that has taken seed and would soon grow to a predictable stature.
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